AT A RECENT BUSTLING LUNCH hour at Solvorn, a tableful of elderly men spoke a mix of English and Norwegian. All of them ordered either the daily special, which on that day was kokt torsk (baked cod), or erte, an unadorned yellow pea soup. A younger, dapper man with a cell phone and a business suit approached them and sat down; as the youngest at the table, he took some friendly teasing. The clamor and cadence of all their talk about families and business was audible but unclear, like the sound of water falling into an antique bathtub. Across the room, a bearded fellow wearing suspenders looked up from his lunch and called out, perhaps to the waitress, perhaps to no one in particular, "That's a good weiner!" A few elderly women at the other side of the cafe sat waiting for their meals, glasses of stiff, yellow buttermilk in front of them.

Lunchtime is lively at Solvorn, where customers are a mix of young and old, up-to-date and old-world. One of the only Scandinavian sit-down restaurants in the city, Solvorn is owned by chef Mark Morin, who keeps the menu small and focuses on daily specials: generally Norwegian items, with Danish dishes served on Tuesdays. It's hearty country food--savory meals that the chef's grandmother likely made for him as a child. Solvorn's lighter food is still traditional: European-style open faced sandwiches come on various thin buttered breads like plain rye and orange rye, with toppings like smoked salmon, ham and Jarlsberg, shrimp, and cervalate (sausage), with garnishes like fresh fennel and sliced hard-boiled eggs.

Morin's down-to-earth aesthetic keeps his menu from being too nouvelle or complicated, and customers aren't the fast-paced, fashionable Ballard denizens you'll see at the Starbucks down the street. It seems the neighborhood clientele from the now-defunct Skandia have come over to Solvorn. The cafe's smooth-textured, light wooden tables, and Morin's open kitchen area with warmly gleaming copper pots and a desklamp sitting beside the stove, offer an air of restrained cheer. A small library in a wall cabinet (customers are encouraged to borrow books while eating) contains M.F.K. Fisher's The Art of Eating as well as The Vikings and Their Origins and Don't Sweat the Small Stuff.

The attentive servers bring flatbread and butter and assortments of teabags to your table, and are quick to offer menu-advice or chat. One waitress is especially good at fielding the semi-saucy remarks from the old timers and turning quick on her heel.

Morin's menu also includes Swedish pancakes with lingonberries, pickled herring, and fiske (fish) pudding (not as frightening as it sounds). A recent daily special, potato balls, were huge, sticky delights--big as ostrich eggs and light years apart from Italian gnocchi, though made from virtually the same ingredients (in different proportions). They seemed to take hours to consume, and had small bunches of salt pork in the center. A surprising and attractive side dish was rutabaga slices steamed with butter. They were soft, light, and tasty, with a pretty orange color, like melon.

The chef called over to a customer departing the place: "It's farmer food! Are you ready to go plow a field?" but an answer never came, perhaps because the small woman he asked was too stupefyingly full to respond (you can order half a daily special if you want).

Another woman in the cafe, wearing a tight, tie-dyed shirt in brilliant ochre and blue, sat across from her elderly dad who, with a shock of white hair, smirked for a moment over his Solo (Norwegian orange soda). Their talk, more of an argument of some kind fenced in by smiles, fell into the general mingled sound of lunchtime: Were these two part of the crowd, or distinct and separate entities? This is the kind of question approached by philosophers, object-relations psychotherapists, and painters, because it's crucial to figure out where you stand in relation to other people.

Another fun pastime is the art of imagining what it would be like to be someone else: for example, the girl in the tie-dyed shirt who was becoming exasperated with her father, or the tense business man with the beeper. As I thought about this, there came the opportunity for a second tier of diversion: dessert and the scalding coffee that Solvorn's servers poured as they circled the room.

Solvorn's pastry case is stuffed with large cakes and pies supplied by the 60th Street Bakery. The coconut layer cake's frosting is slathered on yet, mercifully, not too sweet. Springing from a miracle of egg whites, this stuff is whorly, light, and dreamy as an April snowstorm in Uppsala. After dessert, with no more diversions or hunger, I was finally ready to leave.

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